Intentional Misunderstandings: Belief & Desire in Human-Computer Interaction


Andrew Miller

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As computational devices have become more complex, so have our interactions with them. In this paper, the author suggests that these interactions have become so sophisticated that humans cannot but impute some degree of intentionality (i.e. beliefs, desires, etc.) to machines. Using philosopher Daniel Dennett?s intentional stance, the author shows that it makes predictive and explanatory sense to view modern computational devices as ?thinking things? even although from a design perspective all current and foreseeable-future computers lack general intelligence. The human capacity for providing intentional descriptions for other objects is well documented through folk psychology, although folk psychology itself explicitly models only human behavior. The author suggests that people apply this intentional strategy in a variety of situations, many of which have historically been given the derogatory label of ?anthropomorphism.? Ethnographic studies (those with children especially) are beginning to show a much broader application of the intentional stance than has been traditionally acknowledged, including designed objects such as computers. If indeed people regularly apply the intentional stance when interacting with computational devices, the necessity arises for the incorporation of this perspective into the design process. This will become an ever more critical perspective as computational devices become more ?bound? to their environments through networks and as a result their behavior seems ever more intentional. Through an examination and synthesis of studies and theories from disparate disciplines, the author seeks to improve the user experience with computational devices of today and tomorrow.


S. Traiger




Howard Hughes Medical Institute Summer Research Fellowship

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